Need to get moving but find that ANTs are in your way?  Well, not really those tiny, pesky creepy crawlers found on picnic tables everywhere. These ANTs are “automatic negative thoughts” that creep into your thinking, actually affecting your ability to do many things, including being more physically active. 

Daniel G. Amen, M.D., a psychiatrist, physician and author, first labeled this type of thinking with the novel acronym. He says that ANTs are “cynical, gloomy, and complaining thoughts that just seem to keep coming all by themselves”

Want some guaranteed anti-ANT spray?  It doesn’t come in a spray-bottle, it comes in your disputing, challenging and questioning your own thinking.  Successfully done, this natural ANT killer beats pharmaceuticals and other chemicals.

These ANTs come in 10 varieties according to “rational emotive” or “cognitive behavior” science experts. Psychiatrist Aaron T. Beck, M.D. of the University of Pennsylvania laid the groundwork for these “cognitive distortions.” David D. Burns, M.D., a student of Beck, later articulated these 10 distortions

1.     All or nothing: Seeing things as black or white (“I’m either completely healthy or dying” “The world is going to complete hell”)

2.     Overgeneralizing thinking: You see a single event as a never-ending series of defeating situations (“I always catch a bug whenever a new one comes along”)

3.     Mental filter: You focus on a negative detail and dwell on it exclusively (“All I think about is getting COVID19”)

4.      Discounting the positive: You discard positive experiences and believe they don’t count (“Sure, I feel OK now, but what about later?” “You look healthy” – and immediately think you really don’t)

5.      Jumping to conclusions: You assume you know what others are thinking or predict negative events coming your way. (“I went outside for a walk, I’m sure I am going to catch COVID19” “Things are never going to get better”)

6.      Magnification or minimization: You embellish problems and minimize solutions and positive things in life. (“Ok, so the COVID19 test came back negative, but I still feel sick so maybe the test was wrong!”)

7.      Emotional reasoning: You believe that your negative feelings are facts for the way things are. (“I feel like I have COVID19, so I must have it” “I have a feeling of dread so I must be in real danger”)

8.      Should statements: You believe that things should, ought, must be the way you hoped they would be. (“I absolutely must not, should not, ever get sick with this COVID19”)

9.      Labeling: This is an extreme type of all-or-nothing thinking in which you call yourself and others useless names. (“I’m a weakling” “He’s a reckless fool for going out without a mask near other people”)

10.    Personalizing and blaming: This is when you think you are more responsible for something that happened, than you are. (“Getting sick proves how utterly bad and irresponsible I am” “Oh my goodness, my friend has COVID19, so I must have given it to her”)

Here’s the anti-ANT antidote:  Ask yourself what ACTUAL evidence you have for believing any of these irrational, illogical, erroneous, automatic negative thoughts, also called “cognitive distortions.”?

Finding no real facts in your thoughts, give them up. In their place, substitute factual, logical, rational thinking. Consider keeping a journal of the situations you face daily and the common distortions you recognize that you continually make.

Here’s the simplest anti-ANT method I know:

Column A = list the activating event(s) that triggered your feeling

Column B = write down your irrational beliefs about the event

Column C = ask yourself what are the emotional consequences, the feelings, that result from the erroneous beliefs you have about the event (sadness, worry, anger)?

Column D = dispute, question, dispute your erroneous beliefs

Column E = note the new, positive effects, the healthier feelings of substituting factual beliefs for erroneous ones (healthier, positive, more resilient emotions that enable you to get on with life in a more fulfilling way)

The key is to understand that you have the ability to create “healthy negative feelings” such as concern, feeling blue, feeling a bit worried, annoyed, irritated, or you have the skill to create “UNhealthy negative feelings” such as anxiety, depression or rage. 

It’s up to you. Remember, as always, “The link is what you think.”